Archive for February, 2012

Winter showers and flowers

It’s Adar!  Be Happy!


According to Jewish tradition, “When the month of Adar arrives, happiness increases.” 

Oh sure.  It’s the dead of winter; our enemies are polishing their resolutions and sharpening their knives; the Iranians are building nukes; the Arab Spring is withering under Islamic ice.  What’s there to be happy about?

Here are seven good reasons.  Sometimes you just have to look at things from a different angle.

Our striving for social justice is bound by economic reality.  I hate to say it, but our good neighbors the Greeks give us proof every day that an unbridled welfare state will eventually collapse in chaos if it can’t pay its bills.  For years, the Greek government maintained a wonderful system of “social justice” for all Greeks — on borrowed money.  Similar scenarios may be taking place for Portugal, Spain, Italy and even France, where they seem to believe that retiring at age 62 is in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.  Our own government may need spurs from time to time, but they seem committed to increasing social benefits at a pace that will not destroy our highly-praised economy.  

Our neighbors are not getting their act together.  I know, my mother also told me that nice guys don’t take pleasure in other’s misfortunes.  Sorry, mom.  I would rather our neighbors grind each other up than turn their attention to us.  Liberals all over cheered the “Arab Spring.”  They’re still cheering, but they have to be shutting their eyes and stopping up their ears.  In Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, all beacons of a better future a year ago, their societies have reverted to what they do best: repression, violence, economic failure, and radical Islamism waiting around the bend.  The Arab League, composed of countries the same or worse, is impotent as ever.  In “The Kite Runner,” the hero’s father, an outspoken Afghan skeptic, tells his son that, “Israel [is] an island of ‘real men’ in a sea of Arabs too busy getting fat off their oil to care for their own.”  There might have been a time when we began to doubt this, but it seems to be sounding true once again. 

Isolation?  In your dreams!  Despite the torrent of warnings that Israel’s policies of self-defense and self-interest are causing us to be isolated in the international community, the opposite is true.  Where it really matters, Israel’s standing and trade are growing.  The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement celebrates when an Israeli lecturer is interrupted, a supermarket chain stops selling Israeli hummus or a European workers’ union sells its Israeli stocks.  But at the same time, Israel is signing multi-million dollar business and defense deals with China, India, Russia, and other countries which count in the real world.  As our relations with Turkey plummeted, those with Greece and Cyprus improved beyond anybody’s wildest dreams.  Israel sits on more UN agencies than ever before, and the Security Council just condemned attacks against Israeli diplomats.  And from out of nowhere, Canada has arisen as a strong supporter of Israel, constant as the North Star.  Israel’s medical and security experience is sought after and our entrepreneurship is dissected and copied.

The Jerusalem Light Rail line is off and running.  Although its speed and frequency still have to be improved, the Light Rail is a beautiful, new way to get around Jerusalem.  (Full disclosure: I live exactly at one end of the line, so the Light Rail was made for people like me.)  At first I thought it would just be a bus ride on rails, but it’s a whole different experience.  The medium is the message.  You get on the Light Rail and you’re in a world clean, quiet and smooth.  People speak to each other more, including Jews ands Arabs, something I never see on the bus.

Some three decades after the Israeli wine revolution began, it’s now time for beer.  You can’t keep up with the new boutique breweries opening all over Israel.  Most of the beer they’re making is pretty great.  Even if you’re one of those who “don’t like beer,” the new Israeli beers can change your mind.  And as the beers get better, we’re drinking more of them.  Researchers will tell you that beer is about as healthy as wine — and, if you ask me, it tastes better.

We have a former president in jail.  This should make us happy?  The Egyptians also have an ex-president in jail, but he’s there because a violent revolution with hundreds killed, kicked him out of power.  Ours was convicted in a court of law by due process.  There’s no reason for us to feel shame or guilt over this; only satisfaction that the system worked — at least in this case.

It’s been a miserable, wet winter.  Funny thing: these are the kinds of winters that Jews actually pray for!  Without them, we’d be living in a desert, so count your blessings.  What did Al Jolson used to sing?

        Though winter showers may flood your car,

        They bring the flowers that bloom in Adar! 

I’m not sure this is going to bring a month’s worth of happiness, but it’s a good start.

Doug Greener

February 2012


February 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

Meeting with Herod

Book review:


the Man who had to

be King

Author: Yehuda Shulewitz
Completed and co-edited by Malka Hillel-Shulewitz
Published by Penina Press. 495 pages

I can’t imagine that there’s another town like Jerusalem when it comes to the number of published authors per capita. I personally know a few dozen people who’ve written books and had them published. Novels, non-fiction, poetry, volumes of short stories;.books in English, Hebrew and German. My wife’s boss has had a few books published in Hebrew and German. Her cousin is having a novel published. A neighbor’s published book in Hebrew graces my bookshelf. Even my electrician has had a novel published and it’s pretty good. Every time we are invited to a social gathering I find myself engaging in a discussion with someone about their latest published or soon-to-be published novel or treatise on philosophy or science. There must be something in the air here … or the people!

And now it emerges that the husband of my wife’s former boss, who is also a personal friend, has also had a book published posthumously. Yehuda Shulewitz had been the editor of the Bank of Israel Publications Department in English for 27 years before going back to university and earning an advanced degree in Jewish history, which also focused on the Herodian period. Anyone who has read the Wars of the Jews by Josephus can attest to the fact that it’s very, very hard going indeed. There are so many characters, intrigues, twists, wavering loyalties covering a broad canvas encompassing the Land of Israel and neighboring regions all the way to Rome. Shulewitz wrote a novel about King Herod. It takes unusual grit to tackle such as vast, complex subject.

But Yehuda Shulewitz was the type of guy who would savor a challenge. As a young man during Israel’s War of Independence, needing to get to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, which at that time had been under siege for months, he simply packed a backpack and walked most of the way, through mountains, hills, wadis and plains, skirting past Arab encampments and patrols.

 Subsequently, he served in Israel’s nascent army in Galilee, where coincidentally, this book begins. Galilee has vistas that can readily infuse long-lasting impressions – impressions it seems, that found their way into this book many decades later. After Shulewitz’ advanced studies he began to put together this novel, which is about one of the most controversial figures of the ancient world. However, Shulewitz felt that he had to do a lot more studying – of the subject itself. A thorough man, he also made a study of fiction writing – which is not quite the same as writing economic treatises.

In his last years Shulewitz took ill. He tried to complete the book, but died before he could finish it. His wife, Malka Hillel-Shulewitz, a writer and editor in her own right, had seen the enormous effort that her husband had put into the novel, and she wasn’t prepared to let it all go to waste. She spent a year going over what her husband had written, studying the subject, editing and writing the novel’s concluding pages.

“Herod the Man who had to be King” was published recently by Penina Press. As a writer and editor on fiscal matters in his earlier job, which had demanded totally impartial, coldly objective, humorless factuality molded in maximum brevity, Yehuda Shulewitz needed to make a switch in his writing mode. As a novelist he needed to construct scenes, characters and events that come to life in the readers’ minds; scenes that evoke smells and sounds, and create characters with very human traits that come alive in the events that have the reader eagerly turning pages. Shulewitz’ scholarship, writing skills and a self-critical nature, laced with empathy and humor have made this an eminently readable book, especially for anyone who has tried to understand the Herodian Period and couldn’t penetrate within any depth because of its enormous complexity. It is also marvelous reading for the history buff, curious about the personalities involved.

Available through Amazon and bookstores, including Steimatzky’s and Pomerantz.

February 8, 2012 at 9:18 am Leave a comment